[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The aim of this study was to extend 40 yr of prior demographic work on northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) at Año Nuevo, California, by including the oldest animals. We used a Bayesian mark-recapture analysis to estimate lifelong survival and lifespan of a cohort of 372 weaned pups branded in 1985–1987 and resighted until 2008. Annual survival probability of females averaged 86.3%/yr at ages 5–16, then declined until age 21, the age of the oldest female. Male survival was lower, averaging 67.7%/yr from age 1 to age 15, the age of the oldest male. Northern elephant seal females in the expanding population at Año Nuevo live longer than southern elephant seal females (M. leonina) at colonies whose populations are declining. This comparison suggests that high survival of females is a key factor in population growth.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We describe and review the development of the diving and foraging pattern of northern elephant seals, Mirounga angustirostris, during migrations over the first 2 years of life. The diving pattern and migratory tracks of 23 juveniles, 9–27 months of age, from Año Nuevo and Piedras Blancas, California, were recorded with attached time–depth recorders and Argos satellite tags. The seals exhibited a general diving pattern like that of adults, diving deep (373 ± 77 m per dive (mean ± SD)), long (15.2 ± 2.6 min per dive), and continuously (88.7 ± 2.7% of the time submerged while at sea). Level of performance increased with age and experience up to 2 years of age, the end of the fourth migration, when modal diving performance was equal to that of adults. Juveniles migrated north to the waters west of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, moving more slowly and not as far as adults. By the third trip to sea, males began to exhibit more flat-bottomed dives than females, a sex difference observed in adults, suggesting that males supplement a diet of pelagic organisms with benthic prey. These data and related observations of elephant seals suggest that the greatest physiological changes enabling an animal to dive occur near the rookery following weaning, before the first trip to sea; transition to a pelagic existence is difficult, as reflected by high mortality during the first migration; improvement of diving skills continues up to 2 years of age; and sex differences in foraging behavior and foraging location, similar to those seen in adults, are evident before the seals reach 2 years of age.
Canadian Journal of Zoology. 02/2011; 74(9):1632-1644.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Sex ratio theory predictions concerning differential parental investment in offspring by sex were tested on southern elephant seals, Mirounga leonina, breeding at Península Valdés, Argentina. Females invested equally in sons and daughters, as reflected by the similar mass at birth (mean ± 1 S.D.) of 14 males (44.1 ± 6.5 kg) and 14 females (43.4 ± 3.8 kg), and similar mass at weaning of 52 males (131.5 ± 22.4 kg) and 38 females (131.4 ± 18.3 kg). There were also no sex differences in the rate of mass gain during nursing (males = 4.0 ± 0.9 kg/day; females = 3.9 ± 0.8 kg/day), rate of mass loss during the first month of post-weaning fast (males = 0.85 ± 0.19 kg/day; females = 0.92 ± 0.15 kg/day), mean age at weaning (males = 22.3 ± 1.6 days; females = 22.7 ± 1.7 days), and female nursing behaviour. Mother's size accounted for most of the variation in mass of pups at weaning. Mothers ranked as small, medium and large, weaned pups with a mean mass of 102, 130 and 145 kg, respectively. The sex ratio of weanlings did not differ from unity. These data are consistent with Fisher's (1930) sex ratio theory.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Our aim was to describe the free-ranging diving pattern and to determine the location of foraging of pregnant female southern elephant seals, Mirounga leonina, from Peninsula Valdes, Argentina. This colony is unusual in two respects: it is removed from deep water by a broad shallow shelf (345–630 km wide), and colony numbers have been increasing in recent years in contrast to numbers from other southern hemisphere colonies that are stable or in decline. Microprocessor controlled, geolocation-time-depth recorders were deployed on four females, recording a total of 15,836 dives (270 dive days) during the period February to April, 1992. Departing seals crossed the continental shelf quickly (54–5–62–1 h) and did not show signs of foraging until reaching deep water, due east of the colony in the South Atlantic Ocean. Diving was virtually continuous (93% of the time underwater) with overall mean (±S.D.) rates of 2.5±0.2 dives/h, mean dive durations of 22.8 ± 7.1 min (maximum dive duration = 79 min) with 1.6±0.6min surface intervals between dives, and dive depths of 431±193m (maximum dive depth = 1,072 m). The diving pattern of females from Patagonia is similar to that of seals from colonies where numbers are decreasing (Macquarie stock) or are stable (South Georgia Island). Our subjects did not, however, feed in or south of the Antarctic Polar Front, or in cold waters along the Antarctic coast, where seals from declining or stable colonies forage.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Resumen: El objetivo de este estudio fue el conocer el comportamiento alimentario de las hembras de lobo fino de Guadalupe, Arctocephalus townsendi. Se obtuvo la localización en el mar de tres hembras adultas y el comportamiento de buceo de una hembra adulta haciendo uso de instrumentos registradores del tiempo de buceo con localización geográfica (GLTDRs). Las hembras se alimentaron en la Corriente de California al sur de la Isla de Guadalupe. La distancia media del viaje redondo fue de 2,375 ± 1,389 km. La distancia a la zona de alimentación fue de 444 ± 151 km. El primer viaje de alimentación fue de 10 ± 4 días. El Segundo viaje de alimentación fue de 19 ± 8 días. Los viajes de alimentación combinados promediaron 14.4 ± 8.3 días, durante los cuales la velocidad del nado fue de 1.9 ± 0.1 m/s. El tiempo de transito comprendió el 47.9%, el tiempo de buceo fue de 36.2%, y el tiempo de descanso el 15.9%. El tiempo de alimentación (tiempo ocupado en la zona de alimentación, que incluye tiempos de tránsito y buceo) fue el 75% de todo el tiempo pasado en el mar. La profundidad promedio alcanzada por una hembra fue de 17 ± 10 m. La duración promedio de los buceos fue de 2.6 ± 1.4 min. El intervalo en superficie entre buceos fue de 2 min. El tiempo de fondo promedio fue de 1.4 min. Los buceos estaban organizados en trenes de buceos; se registraron 23 trenes de buceos, con una duración promedio por tren de buceo de 3:04 ± 2:30 h. El promedio de buceos por tren de buceo fue de 63 ± 60 buceos. La hembra buceó durante la noche y transitó durante el día. Los buceos comenzaron típicamente alrededor de las 2030 h y terminaron alrededor de las 0530 h. El patrón de buceos y la distancia viajada por las hembras lactantes para alimentarse es similar al de otras especies de lobos finos. Palabras clave: Arctocephalus townsendi, Comportamiento de buceo, Isla Guadalupe, Lobo fino de Guadalupe, localización en el mar, México, viajes de alimentación.
Avances en el Estudio de los Mamíferos de México. Vol II, Publicaciones Especiales 01/2008: pages 595-614; Asociación Mexicana de Mastozoología, A.C. Mexico D.F.., ISBN: 978-607-7637-03-5
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Many organisms reproduce in temporary aggregations where estimates of colony size can be made by direct counts. When individuals are not synchronous, however, early breeders depart before the last arrive, so counts underestimate the total breeding population. We present a model describing a colony's census as a function of arrival, breeding tenure, and the correlation between them, and we use it to illustrate how variance in arrival and tenure affect the census. Counts of breeding female northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) from 1975 to 2007 were used to test the model. Four of the model's parameters—population size, mean and variance of arrival date, and the correlation between arrival date and breeding tenure—could be estimated from census data using a Bayesian approach; prior estimates of two other parameters—mean tenure and its variance—had to be used to avoid overparameterization. The model's predictions fit observed censuses well and produced reliable estimates of population size and arrival behavior, showing that the maximum census was 8%–16% below the total number of breeding females. This method could be used for estimating abundance in any asynchronous aggregation, given independent information on one of the defining distributions: arrival, tenure, or departure.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We investigated swimming speed, a key variable in both the management of oxygen stores and foraging strategies, and its relationship to diving behaviour in northern elephant seals, Mirounga angustirostris. Swimming speed significantly reduced the dive duration and time at depth for presumed foraging dives, but increased with dive depth. This suggests that the extended duration of deep dives is made possible by physiological adjustments and not by changes in swimming speed or effort. Swimming speeds were similar across sex and age classes despite different predicted minimum cost of transport speeds.All seals exhibited characteristic dive shapes and swimming speed patterns that support their putative functions, but two-dimensional dive shapes and swimming angles varied between sexes and age classes. Mean dive angles on descent were markedly shallow, suggesting use of negative buoyancy to cover horizontal distance while diving. Buoyancy also appeared to affect two-dimensional dive shapes and ability to use extended gliding behaviours between surface and deep foraging zones. Significant differences in diving behaviour between sexes and between young and adult females were evident for various phases of the dive cycle, potentially resulting from physical constraints or differences in dive functionality.
Deep Sea Research Part II Topical Studies in Oceanography 01/2007; 54:369-383. · 2.24 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) are characterized by extended fasting during which they rely entirely on their own body reserves. During fasts, lipids are mobilized from blubber to match the energy requirements of the animal. This transfer frees toxic fat-soluble pollutants into the blood circulation, which may exert adverse health effects, especially in young and developing animals. We investigated the dynamics of mobilization of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from the blubber of northern elephant seal pups during the post-weaning fast. Longitudinal samples of blubber and serum were collected from free-ranging animals throughout the fast at Año Nuevo, California. Blubber biopsies were separated into inner and outer layers. The PCB profiles of blubber and serum consisted mainly of penta- (PCB-101, -110, -118), hexa- (PCB-138, -153) and hepta- (PCB-180, -183, -187) chlorobiphenyls, which accounted for almost 90% of the total PCB burden. Total PCB concentrations in inner blubber increased significantly between early and late fasting (563.6+/-162.0 microg/kg lipids at early versus 911.6+/-513.1 microg/kg lipids at late fasting) whereas they remained fairly constant in outer blubber (572.6+/-134.8 microg/kg lipids at early versus 659.2+/-158.8 microg/kg lipids at late fasting). A corresponding rise of PCB concentrations was observed in serum during the second half of the fast (3.8+/-1.1 microg/l serum at early versus 7.2+/-0.9 microg/l at late fasting). The longitudinal changes in circulating total PCBs could not be explained by the changes in serum lipid fractions (cholesterol, phospholipids, triacylglycerols and free fatty acids). The increases in total PCB concentrations in inner blubber and serum were more pronounced in leaner animals, which suggests that they might be more at risk to potential toxic effects.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Harbour seals sometimes breed along inland travel corridors where females become clustered in space and time and males establish underwater acoustic display territories similar to terrestrial arenas known as resource-based leks. Under these conditions, we predicted that higher levels of polygyny would be observed than has been previously reported for this species mating in open coast environments without travel corridors. Reproductive success (RS) of 70 males was measured using 20 microsatellite DNA loci and likelihood-based paternity analysis of 136 offspring collected over 3 years. Most males were assigned either zero or one paternity with 80% confidence. The greatest number of pups assigned to one male in a season was two. Variance in RS was higher for males than females (which are biologically limited to one offspring per year) indicating low to mild polygyny. In addition, distributions of relatedness values among pups within year classes did not differ significantly from a simulated distribution with R = 0, indicating that half-siblings were uncommon. Overall, polygyny levels were low relative to terrestrial pinniped mating systems and similar to observations from a harbour seal population along an open coast. Due to large confidence intervals associated with our results, we cannot rule out the hypothesis that a travel corridor might increase the degree of polygyny skew relative to that observed in open coast environments. Habitat appeared to influence male strategies as the most successful males in open coast environments patrolled offshore, while the most successful male in this study defended a territory along the travel corridor.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Fifty-two male elephant seals were weighed and photographed at Año Nuevo State Reserve, California, to establish a predictive relationship between photographically measured morphological variables (length, side area, and girth area) and body mass. Regression of mass on these variables revealed that side area, roughly equivalent to a longitudinal cross-section, was the most useful single variable for predicting mass, and that adding the other two variables to side area slightly improved the accuracy of the photogrammetric technique. Curvilinear regressions based on a power model provided the best predictive relationships. This technique may prove useful for estimating body mass of other pinnipeds.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We show that southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina) colonies existed proximate to the Ross Ice Shelf during the Holocene, well south of their core sub-Antarctic breeding and molting grounds. We propose that this was due to warming (including a previously unrecognized period from approximately 1,100 to 2,300 (14)C yr B.P.) that decreased coastal sea ice and allowed penetration of warmer-than-present climate conditions into the Ross Embayment. If, as proposed in the literature, the ice shelf survived this period, it would have been exposed to environments substantially warmer than present.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 08/2006; 103(27):10213-7. · 9.81 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Female northern elephant seals, Mirounga angustirostris, from Año Nuevo (AN) in central California feed offshore in mid-latitude waters (40°–55°N). Migratory patterns and foraging locations of seals from Mexico are unknown. Rookeries on San Benitos (SB) islands in Baja California Sur, Mexico, are ∼1,170 km south of AN. Although the colonies are similar in size, seals from SB begin breeding earlier and have an earlier breeding birthing peak than seals from AN. To determine if the foraging location of seals from Mexico was similar to that of seals from California, we measured δ13C and δ15N values in the hair of 48 suckling pups at SB and 37 from AN, assuming that their isotopic signatures reflected those of mothers' milk, their exclusive diet. The mean δ13C and δ15N values for SB pups (−16.1‰± 0.9‰ and 17.7‰± 0.9‰, respectively) were significantly higher than those for AN pups (−17.6‰± 0.4‰ and 15.6‰± 1.0‰, respectively). From data on environmental isotope gradients and known behavior of SB and AN populations, we hypothesize that the isotope differences are due to females in the SB colony foraging ∼8° south of seals from AN. This hypothesis can be tested by deployment of satellite tags on adult females from the SB colony.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The aim of this study was to measure persistent organic pollutants in northern elephant seals ([NES], Mirounga angustirotris). We obtained blubber biopsy samples from six healthy, newly weaned NES pups from Año Nuevo, California (USA). Contaminant levels were lower than those of other pinnipeds studied on the west coast of North America. Blubber concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins, and polychlorinated dibenzofurans averaged 700 +/- 130 microg/kg, 32 +/- 23 ng/kg, and 17 +/- 5 ng/kg (lipid wt), respectively. These contaminants originate from transplacental transfer and from maternal milk, which, in turn, reflect contaminants acquired by the mother from prey during long-distance foraging trips in the northeastern Pacific Ocean. The PCB profile in the blubber of NES pups mainly was composed of penta-, hexa-, and hepta-chlorobiphenyls, possibly reflecting the deep-sea nature of the mother's diet. Our results suggest that NES pups, in contrast to pups of other pinnipeds in the eastern Pacific Ocean, are exposed to low levels of persistent organic pollutants, reflecting an open ocean signal.
Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 04/2005; 24(3):629-33. · 2.62 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Top-trophic predators like California sea lions bioaccumulate high levels of persistent fat-soluble pollutants that may provoke physiological impairments such as endocrine or vitamins A and E disruption. We measured circulating levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) in 12 healthy juvenile California sea lions captured on Año Nuevo Island, California, in 2002. We investigated the relationship between the contamination by PCBs and DDT and the circulating levels of vitamins A and E and thyroid hormones (thyroxine, T4 and triiodothyronine, T3). Serum concentrations of total PCBs (sigmaPCBs) and total DDT were 14 +/- 9 mg/kg and 28 +/- 19 mg/kg lipid weight, respectively. PCB toxic equivalents (sigmaPCB TEQs) were 320 +/- 170 ng/kg lipid weight. Concentrations of sigmaPCBs and sigmaPCB TEQs in serum lipids were negatively correlated (p < 0.05) with serum vitamin A and T3, potentially reflecting PCB-related toxicity. A slight but not significant negative correlation (p < 0.1) was observed between serum T4 and the levels of sigmaPCBs and sigmaPCB TEQs. Conversely, no relationship was evident between the contaminant concentrations and vitamin E (p > 0.1). As juvenile California sea lions are useful sentinels of coastal contamination, the high levels encountered in their serum is cause for concern about the ecosystem health of the area.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The condition of many marine mammals varies with fluctuations in productivity and food supply in the ocean basin where they forage. Prey is impacted by physical environmental variables such as cyclic warming trends. The weaning weight of northern elephant seal pups, Mirounga angustirostris, being closely linked to maternal condition, indirectly reflects prey availability and foraging success of pregnant females in deep waters of the northeastern Pacific. The aim of this study was to examine the effect of ocean climate on foraging success in this deep-diving marine mammal over the course of three decades, using cohort weaning weight as the principal metric of successful resource accrual.
The mean annual weaning weight of pups declined from 1975 to the late 1990s, a period characterized by a large-scale, basin-wide warm decadal regime that included multiple strong or long-duration El Niños; and increased with a return to a cool decadal regime from about 1999 to 2004. Increased foraging effort and decreased mass gain of adult females, indicative of reduced foraging success and nutritional stress, were associated with high ocean temperatures.
Despite ranging widely and foraging deeply in cold waters beyond coastal thermoclines in the northeastern Pacific, elephant seals are impacted significantly by ocean thermal dynamics. Ocean warming redistributes prey decreasing foraging success of females, which in turn leads to lower weaning mass of pups. Annual fluctuations in weaning mass, in turn, reflect the foraging success of females during the year prior to giving birth and signals changes in ocean temperature cycles.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), DDTs, chlordanes, HCHs, hexachlorobenzene (HCB), dieldrin, heptachlor epoxide, tris(4-chlorophenyl)methane (TCPMe), and tris(4-chlorophenyl)methanol (TCPMOH) were measured in the blubber of California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) collected in 2000. DDTs were the most predominant contaminants, followed by PCBs, chlordanes, TCPMe, HCHs, TCPMOH, dieldrin, and heptachlor epoxide. Concentrations of PCBs and DDTs varied from a few microg/g to several hundreds of microg/g on a lipid weight basis. Concentrations of DDTs have declined by an order of magnitude over the last three decades in California sea lions; nevertheless, the measured concentrations of PCBs and DDTs in California sea lions are still some of the highest values reported for marine mammals in recent years. Concentrations of organochlorines were highly correlated with one another. Concentrations of PCBs and DDTs in the blubber of gray whale, humpback whale, northern elephant seal, and harbor seal, and in the adipose fat of sea otter, were lower than the levels found in California sea lions, and were in the range of a few to several microg/g on a lipid weight basis.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The aim of this study was to evaluate the role of vocalizations produced during the breeding season by the male harbour seal, an aquatically breeding pinniped. During the spring of 1999, playback experiments were conducted at eight locations in Elkhorn Slough, California, U.S.A. Through an underwater speaker, we presented male harbour seals with three acoustic stimuli: a long-duration, low-frequency roar (LL), a short-duration, high-frequency roar (SH) and amplified water noise (control). Male responses to the playback boat were characterized by increased approach rates and aggressive flipper slapping during 62.5% of SH sessions (N=8), 25% of LL sessions (N=8) and 0% of control sessions (N=8). No more than one identifiable seal responded during each playback location. We observed no responses by female harbour seals to playbacks. We conclude from these experiments that territorial male harbour seals use roars given by intruders to locate and challenge intruders.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Compared to the harem and resource defense systems of terrestrial mating pinnipeds, males of aquatic mating species appear unable to monopolize females or resources. We investigated movements, acoustics, and aquatic territorial behavior of male harbor seals, Phoca vitulina richardii, in Elkhorn Slough, California, using VHF telemetry, hydrophones, and acoustic playback experiments. During the mating season 22 males increased time spent in the water and away from haul-out locations, exhibiting activity patterns similar to Atlantic subspecies. Two acoustic display patterns were observed. At one location multiple males aggregated to display with acoustic activity peaking one month before peak estrus. At two other locations, lone males displayed primarily during peak estrus. Acoustic display areas were non-adjacent with a mean ± SE size of 4,228 ± 576 m2, similar to harbor seal display patterns in the Moray Firth, Scotland. Underwater playbacks of male vocalizations were used to define territorial boundaries by inducing responses from territory-holding males. Four solitary males defended adjacent territories (mean area 39,571 ± 18,818 m2) along a travel corridor, similar to observations of harbor seals at Miquelon, Newfoundland. Acoustic display stations appeared to be subcomponents of larger territories. Males exhibited site fidelity to territories for at least 2–4 yr. Females moved through territories freely. The establishment of male-display territories along female-traffic corridors resembles terrestrial systems described as hotspot leks.